Saturday, December 09, 2017

Jerusalem Decision: One Christian's Perspective

Donald Trump has decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. Whether that is the right or wrong decision is a political question and I don't do politics. (I have my own opinions about political issues. But, as a pastor, I have come to believe that it is contrary to my call and contrary to the great commission under which the Church operates, to give political opinions, except in the gravest of circumstances.)

[Photo from the Brookings Institution. No copyright infringement intended and the owner of the image is free to take it down if they wish to do so.]

But I do want to comment on the ideas of one group that this decision seems designed to placate. This group, a segment of the evangelical Christian community, has a particular view of eschatology (end times) that differs from how most Christians through the centuries and today, view it.

This subgroup believes that human beings can, in essence, force God's hand in bringing about the day of the ascended Jesus' return. They think that human beings can do this by triggering a war that starts in Jerusalem.

This is why one of the speakers at the Roy Moore-Donald Trump rally in Pensacola last night hailed the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The main problem with this idea is that it is unchristian and unbiblical.

I say this for several reasons.

First, the idea held by this group is that we can somehow force the hand of the sovereign God of the universe to bring the end times closer is wrong. The notion reflects the very idolatry of self that caused humanity to fall into sin in the first place, the desire to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5).

Jesus has made it clear that the decision about when He returns is totally in the hands and the mind of the Father. "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father," Jesus says in Matthew 24:36. We can neither know God's timetable nor influence it.

Jesus also renders the convoluted eschatology of this splinter group ridiculous when in Mark 13, He describes the conditions for His return and describes the world as it was and remains to this day: fallen, subject to all manner of disasters and evils. Those conditions prevailed in the first-century AD; they prevail today. Nothing has changed.

The reason that the apostles had to encourage first-century Christians that Jesus being good for His promise to return and finally and fully establish His kingdom, is that they could see that all of the conditions Jesus had spoken about as signs of His return were already fulfilled. The New Testament has many instances of the apostles counseling believers to be patient and to keep trusting in Christ.

Human beings cannot and will not force God's hand on this or any other issue. He is sovereign. He is God and we aren't.

My second point: One cannot equate the modern secular state of Israel with ancient Israel, whether, as the result of Jerusalem being recognized by the US and other countries as modern Israel's capital or not.

On Jesus' death, the curtain of the temple was torn (Matthew 27:51). The curtain concealed the holy of holies, where God lived in the temple to be approached by God's people. When the temple tore, it signified that God had been made accessible to all people. There was no need for a temple. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "... a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24)

There is no need for a new temple. The mission of ancient Israel was fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ.

And, in my estimation, it is a sick distortion of Christian faith for some Christian groups to hail anything that they believe will promote war.

Again, I am not making a political point. I am pointing out that the misuse of Scripture, for political or other purposes, is regrettable and unwarranted.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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